Today I want to share with you a snapshot into the lives of children’s book illustrator, E. H. Shepard, and writer, A. A. Milne, from the fascinating book I’ve been reading called, “The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood,” by Kathryn Aalto.
E. H. Shepard’s mother was Harriet Jessie Lee. She had grown up with an artist father. Therefore, she encouraged her son’s interest in drawing by providing notebooks and pencils for him to carry with him wherever he went. Kathryn Aalto says on page 57, “Through time, he developed a photographic memory for drawing scenes, events, and gestures.”
Shepard experienced a happy childhood with his parents and two older siblings until he was eleven. But Aalto says on page 58, “One day his mother, bedridden for months, bid the children a cheery goodbye for what they perhaps thought was a short trip to visit his aunts. Not much later, she died…Shepard said that he felt his childhood ended then.”
However, in his grief his love of drawing became “an outlet of expression for him.” (Page 58) His suffering aided him in being able to express emotions in the characters he drew. Kathryn observes this underlying grief when she notes, “Consider the way he portrays a contemplative or bewildered Pooh bear or a timid Piglet trying to be brave.” His mediums of choice were pencil, pen and ink, and black crayons. As you can see in his drawings of A. A. Milne’s characters, he “favored cross-hatching, fine line, or crayon,” (Page 61.)
In 1926, Shepard traveled to visit Milne’s stomping grounds and walk with him through Ashdown Forest. Not only did this land inspire Milne’s stories, it also became the inspiration for Shepard’s drawings. Aalto says on page 61, “The bee tree, Wol’s tree, Galleons Lap, and the Enchanted Place were real places Shepard interpreted…”
All of the characters in Winnie-the-Pooh were drawn from Christopher Robin’s real stuffed animals. But that “silly old bear,” as the fictional Christopher Robin called Pooh, was created from Growler. Growler was a stuffed bear that belonged to Shepard’s son, Graham. He studied and sketched how the boys played with their stuffed animals which eventually became his art for the books.
In my humble opinion, the collaboration of A. A. Milne’s writing and E. H. Shepard’s illustrations has been one of the greatest gifts bestowed on our world. These two men were definitely destined to meet, and the world over has forever been blessed by their incredible work.
I know my own childhood was enriched by Winnie-the-Pooh and all of his friends who lived in The Hundred Acre Wood. I am thankful to Kathryn Aalto for writing such a lovely book! I haven’t finished it yet, because I am savoring the beauty of her writing and photography, as well as the photography many others. I highly recommend it for an enjoyable read!
Here is a drawing I did of one of my favorite scenes from “Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day.” Pooh is about to go through Eeyore’s house he just finished building because he (Pooh) is holding onto Piglet’s scarf which has unraveled leaving Piglet in the sky.
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug. 🙂